Monday, October 3, 2011

Raptor Cuisinart

The American Bird Conservancy highlights what certainly appears to be a double standard in the enforcement of our wildlife laws. According to a Conservancy press release:
The United States Attorney in North Dakota has charged seven oil companies in seven separate cases with violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for the illegal killing of 28 migratory birds. Yet, American Bird Conservancy – the nation’s leading bird conservation organization – reports that the wind industry, despite killing more than 400,000 birds annually, has yet to face a single charge.

The oil-related bird deaths, which included members of twelve different species, occurred between May 4 and June 20, 2011. The statutory maximum sentence for violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is six months in federal prison and a $15,000 fine. The date for the initial appearances for the seven companies is set for September 22, 2011, in United States District Court, Bismarck, North Dakota.

“I commend the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department for enforcing the law in these cases. Oil pits are a known hazard to birds and the solutions to prevent these bird deaths are straightforward to implement,” said American Bird Conservancy President George Fenwick. “It is perplexing that similar prosecutions have yet to be brought against the operators of wind farms. Every year wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds, including eagles, hawks, and songbirds, but the operators are being allowed to get away with it. It looks like a double standard.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated in 2009 that about 440,000 birds were being killed by wind turbines. With an anticipated twelve-fold wind energy build-out by the year 2030, bird mortality is expected to dramatically increase in the coming years, absent significant changes in the way wind farms are sited and operated. Based on studies, one wind farm in California is estimated to have killed more than 2,000 eagles, plus thousands of other birds, yet no prosecution has been initiated for violations of federal laws protecting birds.
Wind turbine blades kill big birds by whacking them. They also kill thousands of bats by creating sudden low pressure which causes the bats' lungs to explode, but wind turbines are "green" energy producers so apparently they get a pass. Meanwhile, those nasty oil companies responsible for the demise of a couple dozen ducks must be punished to the full extent of the law. The bureaucratic mindset really is a thing to behold.

Here's a video showing how large, soaring birds like raptors are especially vulnerable to the turbine's blades:
There are many threats to birds in the modern landscape: Cell phone and radio towers, tall buildings, feral cats, cars, toxins etc. but few things threaten the large birds like wind turbines.

At any rate, the question is why single out oil companies for stiff fines for the harm they cause, which is relatively minor, and give every other source of harm, many of them far more serious, a shrug?

Reservations Concerning the Death of Awlaki

It's not often that I find myself agreeing with people like Dennis Kucinich and the ACLU, but when Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen last week by a U.S. military missile strike I think we created a problem and those who brought the problem to our attention have a legitimate point.

First, though, I give credit to President Obama for green-lighting the CIA's and the U.S. military's war on terror and for targeting terrorists wherever they're found around the world. I don't think anyone on the right or the left foresaw in 2008 that he would pursue such an aggressive policy. Terrorists are a cancerous tumor in the body of civilization and their eternal reward, whatever it is, needs to be expedited.

Second, I give the military credit for finding and killing Anwar al-Awlaki. He was a particularly virulent form of cancer, and I admire the skill and effort made to track him and bring an end to his lethal activities against the American people.

But that brings me to the problem. Awlaki and a companion who was also killed in the attack were American citizens, and I have serious misgivings about handing the president, any president, the power to simply execute, without some form of due process, any American citizen deemed to be a threat to the country.

Frankly, I'm surprised that neither the progressive left nor the tea party right seems overly concerned about this since the former was extremely upset about mistreatment of non-citizen enemy combatants at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and the latter has a very deep commitment and fidelity to the Constitution.

Nevertheless, people on both sides of the ideological divide seem to be averting their eyes from the camel's nose insinuating itself into the tent of our constitutional protections and creating an opening for real executive abuse by some future president.

By all means the Awlakis of the world should be put out of business, but we need some sort of standard or procedure, involving all three branches of government, not just administration lawyers, that would insure that such operations do not create a precedent for the erosion of constitutional safeguards, particularly the Fifth Amendment which guarantees that no American citizen will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

The enemy today may be a terrorist, but tomorrow it could be anyone who opposes a president or his policy, whether foreign or domestic. It could be the rich, or the religious, the Wall Street protestor or the abortion clinic demonstrator. We must not allow our government to start us down the road that leads us there.

I'm not a constitutional lawyer so I don't know exactly what provisions can be put in place to prevent this, or how they may be established, but Washington is full of such experts, including one in the Oval Office. We should be demanding that they get about the business of building a firewall around the protections guaranteed to American citizens in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. There is bipartisan consensus that the death of Awlaki was necessary. There should also be bipartisan consensus on the need to find a way to insure that such measures don't become a habit.